North Florida hub's cup runneth over with daily-fee golf

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Anyone who's been there will tell you that Jacksonville is one of the best-kept secrets on the eastern seaboard. A vibrant, midsize city with an enviable waterfront setting and an NFL franchise, "J-ville" as locals call it, often plays second fiddle to Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C. and even instate rivals Tampa and Miami in the Southern city popularity contest.

St. Johns Golf and C.C.
St. Johns Golf and C.C. lies in the golf-rich stretch of I-95 between Jacksonville and St. Augustine.
St. Johns Golf and C.C.Cimarrone C.C. golf course - 3rdWorld Golf Village - Slammer and Squire Course

For golfers seeking to soak up the seemingly endless array of daily-fee golf offerings, this anonymity is part of the allure. The city's existence, however, has not always been so clandestine.

In 1821, the land dubbed by Ponce de Leon as "la Florida" officially became a U.S. territory. Just a year later at "Cowford" -- a narrow spot on the St. Johns River where cows were ferried across the drink -- the town of Jacksonville sprung to life out of the reed choked marshes of what is now Duval county. By the time Florida achieved statehood in 1845, Jacksonville (named for General Andrew Jackson) had already established itself as a major player in the cotton and timber industries.

In 1901, a catastrophic fire destroyed over 2000 buildings downtown, seemingly knocking the legs out from under one of the South's burgeoning cities. But the town rallied and ultimately underwent a renaissance that set the tone for its emergence as a military and financial center. In 1968, the city and surrounding Duval country merged to create the largest geographical municipality in the U.S. Skyscrapers and new bridges sprung up along the south bank of the river and by the early 70's Jacksonville was one of the South's largest metropolitan areas.

First Coast golf

Jacksonville lays claim to 68 golf courses, most of which are available to the golfing public. Further cementing the city's reputation as one of the true golf capitals of the South, the PGA Tour and Senior PGA Tour headquarters are in town and the World Golf Village is a chip shot away in St. Augustine. In fact, the World Golf Village is home to one of the area's best new tracks, the Bobby Weed designed Slammmer and the Squire. The layout is classically Florida, consisting of two distinct nines, frequent integration of water and marshes, and plenty of sand.

The Slammer and the Squire is often eclipsed by its own sibling, the King and Bear Course. The course is the first collaborative effort between Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who between them hold 25 major titles, over 130 PGA Tour victories, and some 350 golf course designs to their credit. The course is set two miles southwest of the World Golf Village complex, so it's not physically linked to the resort. The King and Bear is a smooth composite of the better aspects of each firm's design style. Palmer's team did the original routing, Nicklaus' tackled the strategic elements next, and then the two golfers walked the course on several occasions to further enhance it to their specs and supply directives to their engineers.

Hilton Head-based architect Clyde Johnston has gotten into the mix of late with his design at St. Johns Golf and Country Club. St. Johns is also the latest addition to a suddenly golf-rich stretch of I-95 between Jacksonville and St. Augustine. The I-95 corridor currently sports seven public courses, five of which have opened since 1998, along a 20-mile stretch. St. Johns is a mix of minimalism in places and man-made engineering in others. When there is evidence of construction, Johnston and crew employed some subtle shaping.

Other solid choices include the Golf Club at South Hampton, from Tour player turned designer Mark McCumber, Cimarrone Golf Club from designer David Postlethwait who helped build the TPC at Sawgrass courses in Ponte Vedra Beach, and Royal St. Augustine, located off I-95 in route to the World Golf Village. Also within reach: Sawgrass Marriott Resort in Ponte Vedra, the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, and the three resort courses of Amelia Island Plantation, Oak Marsh, Ocean Links and Long Point.

Where to eat in Jacksonville

From Southern-fried chicken to fresh fish, sushi, steak or barbecue, Jacksonville is stocked with all the eateries of a good, midsize city. The Riverfront and South Bank areas are the places to see and be seen, and offer visitors a taste of the city's revitalized downtown. The Chart House serves up fresh seafood as well as tasty steaks and tender Prime Rib. Located on the Southbank, the restaurant overlooks the St. Johns River and the downtown skyline.

Getting to Jacksonville

Jacksonville is served by Interstates 10 and 95, and is easily accessible from Orlando, Tampa, and other Southern population centers like Charlotte and Atlanta. Jacksonville International Airport doesn't rival Tampa or Orlando, but it's a serviceable medium sized facility. JIA is located 12 miles or about 20 minutes from downtown. With 15 airlines making 250 daily arrivals and departures, non-stop and direct service is available from most of the nation's metropolitan areas.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of from 1997 to 2003.

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